Marion County, Alabama Surprises!

I was able to spend significant time on genealogy research this weekend, so I picked up my Stephens file, but couldn’t think of a new path of attack for my line. So I thought I’d spend some time trying to figure out why William Stephens spent many years in Alabama. As I’ve researched William’s father, Welcome, I could see no reason why William would be in Alabama. I thought it must have something to do with William’s wife, Dorothy Wigginton, who I have done zero research on.

I went to Ancestry to see if I could find Wiggintons near William’s family in the Alabama census records. How could I have never noticed that there was a Wigginton family living next door? And another Wigginton further down the page? I think I’ve been so focused on the Stephens surname and trying to find where they were in 1870 that I never took the time to look around. Rookie mistake! As I began to research these Wiggintons, I found that Ancestry has some very nice plat maps for the area. And that was the beginning of HOURS of researching land records! On Ancestry, I was able to get plat maps and land grant certificates. That reminded me to look at the BLM-GLO web site which helped me decipher that writing on the plat maps and helped me find some additional parcels of land that I hadn’t noticed before.

I was trying to find a map of the entire county with plat lines on it when I came across a GREAT site by the Alabama Secretary of State. The Government Records Inquiry System gives access to great scans of the Tract Books showing everyone who received a land grant within a specific township and range. It was a much easier way to see who the neighbors were than trying to read the tiny writing on the plat map! The site also has books of Field Notes, Land Patents, Deeds and Leases and lots of other books that I have not had time to look at.

This week-end (and today because we had a snow storm that cancelled school) was all about information gathering, and the days ahead will be spent analyzing! I’ve had issues in the past with finding records for 2 different men named William Stephens in the area, so I’m hoping that these records will help me to sort these men out!

Citation headaches

Ahhhhh…..snow day! Actually, “icy streets” day, but no matter – an unexpected day to work on genealogy! So I thought to myself, I will open my group sheets that are stored on my computer and change all of the citations that only say “Find-a-grave” to be actual, genealogically happy citations. And thus began my citation headache…

I decided to start with a specific group sheet that had all kinds of information for every name on the sheet – births, deaths, spouses, marriage dates, etc, but my citations tended to be things like: 1) ACPL 976.901 R91sh v. 1. or 2) Accd to William’s birth record or 3) Marriage Bonds book 6. CERTAINLY not complete citations! And what about the marriage dates that had no citations at all? Oy vey!

I decided that I would not work on any other group sheet until I entered proper citations for everything on this group sheet.

I began with burial citations since that was my original intention anyway. Because I took a trip to my county of research a few summers ago, I had many of my own images from cemeteries and such, so I cited those first and then moved on to Find-a-grave listings that I had not created myself. I did a Google search to see how others were citing Find-a-grave sites and could not find anything that didn’t refer to getting information from the image of the tombstone. I have quite a few ancestors who are listed in Find-a-grave, but do not have an image of the stone included. I decided on a citation format that was close to what I was seeing online and that would work well for me including linking the person’s name to the Find-a-grave listing so I could continue to check back for images at a later date with just a single click. There are some wonderful volunteers in Russell County who are posting images of obituaries and wedding announcements that have been delightful surprises and I am very grateful for that! I only wish that the name of the newspaper and date of publication were included, but someday, I’ll be able to make a trip to the area and find those myself and I’m thrilled with the information that they do contain.

Next came hours of re-researching. Quite a bit of information that I had came from a web site that no longer exists, so I was looking for print outs or other sites that the information may have been copied to. (Thank you RootsWeb!) If I didn’t already have a print-out, I made one today with the surnames that I research along with any information given on the source that the information had originally come from.

I then went to my Ancestry account to see if I had entered sources in the notes on there. Sadly, there were not many. When information came from microfilms, I searched the FamilySearch catalog to find the films that I had rented in the past to get the information needed for those records. When information came from books, I found the book on the WorldCat site, copied the Chicago style citation and added page numbers if I knew them and red notes to look them up if I didn’t.

Bottom line – I’ve spent 8 hours adding fresh information and working to update citations for ONE group sheet and my backside is pretty sore because I’ve spent every minute of that kicking myself in the rear for not doing this correctly from the beginning! BUT, I now have a group sheet (yes, only one) that is fully cited and I have LEARNED MY LESSON!

A Free Afternoon = A New Database

I made sure to get all of my work for Monday’s classes done yesterday so that I could have a genealogy afternoon today! But I’ve been in the process of creating a photo album scrapbook for my daughter’s graduation this May, so my genealogy files weren’t in any condition to do traditional research. Instead,  I decided to work on creating a database in Excel of all of the Stephens gravestones in Russell County cemeteries. It’s pretty mindless work, so I can also “watch” marathons of my favorite HGTV shows while entering information. To keep from getting TOO overwhelmed with it, I decided to only enter information for people who were born before 1900.

I had a column for name, birth date, death date, parents, spouse and cemetery.

I LOVE creating databases like this in Excel because of the information that I see (REALLY see) for the first time based on sorting the database by columns. For example, when I sort by name, I can see all of the men named Andrew J. Stephens and fill in some of the blanks on the various groups sheets that I have. When I consider the location of the cemetery for each man, it helps me see which locations within the county are most likely to go with each man.

I can sort based on date of death and then see a list of people who died in the time frame in which death certificates are available on Ancestry to see if there are certificates that I haven’t discovered yet.

I can sort based on Parents and an incredibly complete group sheet appears before my eyes because of the links added to family stones and images of obituaries that volunteers have added. Often, I’ll find a spouse or child that I didn’t know about by doing this.

Or I can sort based on the Cemetery and begin to see possibilities for family connections that I didn’t think of before.

This sheet of the database is now part of a Stephens workbook that I’ve been working on over the years. Any time I’m at a standstill in research for one reason or another, I try to take one source – a specific book or website – and add all of the entries that I can whether I know they are related to my line or not. I have solved many puzzles with databases like this one! Now, if I have a date of death on the Cemetery sheet, but no parents, I can check to see if I have information on the Death Records worksheet to see if parents are listed there. I have worksheets for Birth Records, Marriage Records, Deeds, Taxes, Census Records, Military Info, Death Records and now – Cemeteries. And of course, every entry has the source included so I don’t have to go back to the actual book or website to add a record to my software database.

While it isn’t an earth shattering revelation for doing research, I’m always surprised by what I discover even though it was looking me directly in the face before!

Wishful thinking…

I was taking a look at my blog statistics today and I noticed that quite often, people find my blog by doing an internet search for people who happen to be my ancestors.  For example, a search for “John Smith Russell County Kentucky”.

Oh, how I wish those people would let me know that we may be researching the same line! I’ve always heard that a blog would be a great way to meet “cousins”, but I can only think of a couple of times that I’ve been contacted by a related researcher who found my family information through this blog.

Now, I really don’t want to sound “snooty”, but if I put my information out on this blog and find researchers who are reading it, but not at least letting me know that we may be related, then there can be no sharing of information, but only taking. Even if a person feels they have nothing to share, at the very least, we could become research “buddies” who could each look at questions from different angles and look at research opportunities that one of us has that the other doesn’t.

Doesn’t that sound lovely??


As you know from one of my recent posts, for Christmas, I received the gift of my own room – actually 2 rooms because there’s a tiny room just off of “my” room. This is to be my genealogy (and scrapbooking) sanctuary. A place where I can make and sort my piles and not have to put them away. A place for me to put papers and maps all over the wall and not worry about what visitors might think. And I’ve been spending any free time that I have on the week-ends re-painting and moving furniture and such and now it’s finally at a place where I can do a little genealogy without tripping over stuff. It still has a ways to go to be my ideal room, but at least it’s usable and today, I’ve been able to spend the day working on my files.

But what I’m finding it that my files are SCATTERED all over the house! You know how it is, take a file from your filing cabinet to the library. Write all over the file and keep it in a backpack for your next trip. But you need the backpack for a different reason, so the file gets put on the kitchen counter. Then company comes, so you put the file into a drawer – on and on it goes.

So now, my goal is to start collecting everything genealogy related from the various rooms and desks and drawers and backpacks of the house and into my genealogy room. Each of the cubbies that I’ve purchased will be dedicated to a surname as I gather the files. Whenever I get to spend some time in my room, I’ll go through the stacks and get them placed into the correct file in my filing cabinet.

Now I can hear many of you saying, “It’s time to go paperless!” and for the most part, I do have digital versions of my collection, but it’s just not the same as flipping through the pages and writing questions and thoughts in the margins. Not to mention the fact that I have digital files on an old laptop, on an external drive, on Dropbox and Google Drive and on a couple of flash drives.  The flash drives go with me everywhere so that when I have time to do some web surfing, I have my files with me. But until recently, I haven’t had a flash drive large enough for ALL my files, so my digital dilemma is very similar to my paper dilemma. Which location has the most recent file? Did I combine my newest information with the information on my laptop?

So I’m beginning with one family line – Stephens. And I’m making my largest flash drive my final location for files. I’ll be comparing my paper notes with my digital files and getting everything into the FINAL location. When I think I have found all of my print outs, folders, files, binders, etc. and put them in my room and all of my notes for a family up to date, then I’ll print them out and replace anything in my filing cabinet that needs to be updated and then I will throw away the old files. I’ve always been reluctant to throw out anything because of the stuff I written in the margins, but that’s how I’ve gotten into the mess I’m in now. So this will be the ultimate purging of my files. Will this be a quick process, of course not. But I have a feeling that as I go through these things, I will find that puzzles will be solved and I’ll have a more complete set of notes to research from in the future!

Awesome Maps!

2 hour school delay this morning – yes! I love these unexpected chunks of free time when I don’t feel guilty for doing some genealogy surfing!

This morning, I was looking at some genealogy newsletters that I get in my email and I saw a hint to take a map of the area you are researching and to draw concentric circles 5, 10, 15, etc. miles out from the location of your ancestor to see when places on the map might be likely places to research for more information on an ancestor. In the article, it mentioned USGS web site as a great resource for downloading topographic maps – and what a goldmine I feel like I’ve found!

The area of Kentucky that I research is very hilly and covered with little creeks and branches from the Cumberland River. I’ve always intended to take a more detailed look at the County Map that I have to pinpoint the different waterways that have been mentioned. The waterways are always mentioned in the tax records to show the location of the land being taxed.  The maps I’ve found on USGS are excellent for this type of research and you can download them for free!

So now, my plan is to take a look at my County map to make a list of the towns around my ancestor’s locations and to download the maps that are available to put on my research wall. I think that till now, I’ve been a “can’t see the trees because of the forest” kind of person. I know I have the County map, but I’ve never taken the time to focus on which part of the county my ancestors are in – something I should have done loooooooooooooooong ago. This will be my opportunity to do that!

Genealogy Room Disaster

Oh my goodness, the genealogy room was going great – almost every surface has new paint on it.

My son was working on adding coats of thick, black magnetic paint to an area of my wall and I was on a chair touching up the edges of the ceiling paint. When I got off the chair, I stumbled and grabbed a table for balance and guess what was on the table….the can of black, magnetic paint!

My carpet now looks like a Holstein cow…..

On the bright side, it looks like there may be some new carpet in my future! On the downside, this is not an expense we need right now.

Not really genealogy worthy news, but I had to vent…

Happy New Year!

Ahhhh…..January 1st! A new beginning! A fresh start! For one day at least, I don’t feel overwhelmed with projects and “to do” lists because, for today, the slate is wiped clean and the possibilities are endless.

Too bad that feeling won’t last long!

BUT, I do have a few goals (I won’t call them resolutions) or projects for 2013.

#1) My first “goal” for this year is to put a serious dent into my citations. I continue to collect information for my family tree and I’ve been indicating the location where the information was found, but not anywhere NEAR the citation format that ‘d like to have. Right now, my footnote might say simply “Find-a-grave” or a library book call number. Time to update those sources into true citations!

#2) Project – I really do hope to create the interactive PowerPoint project for my family to enjoy. Obviously, I was unable to get that done this year, but I’m hoping for some significant changes in my job this year which could potentially give me significantly more time to work on my genealogy. It’s potentially too good to even mention out loud, so this change is in the whisper stages only!

#3) Organization – I have found that I often desire to work on my genealogy, but have NO desire to search for the files I need when I only have an hour or less to work. How wonderful would it be to have a place that I look forward to being in that has fewer distractions (yes, washing machine beep, I’m talking about you!) as well as having all of my genealogy stuff in an easily accessible location? I’d love a way to display my materials on a large scale because I’m just such a visual person that I often see connections or questions only when I see everything at the same time.

I have to say that I’m one of the luckiest women in the world because I have the best husband around! We have been married for 27 years and have 4 children. Our house has 5 bedrooms but two of our children are out on their own, leaving 2 “empty” bedrooms. For Christmas this year, I’ve been given the go-ahead (Along with a very generous pre-paid Visa card!) to make one of those bedrooms into my very own genealogy heaven!

My plans include a fresh coat of paint, with one wall having special paint to make it a magnet board – a twelve foot magnet board! All new furniture including my ideas for the ideal genealogy file system where I can lay out a project and not have to put it away until I’m ready to move on to a different family! I plan to have a counter-height cubbie system to keep my tools, files and magazines stored in while spreading various files across the top to analyze. I will spread my papers across the top for organizing, scanning, hole punching, writing on, or whatever is needed at that time without worrying about putting it all away because my family needs the kitchen table for dinner!

Pictures of ancestors on the walls, maps and charts and colorful dry erase boards to keep reminders and plans on. I plan to have large print-outs of groups sheets and 5-gen charts displayed for quick reference. I’ll have a system for easy storage and access to the rolls of newsprint that I like to use.

And everything in bright colors that I wouldn’t normally have in my more traditional rooms because I won’t have to please anyone but myself! My 3rd son is supplying the painting labor as his Christmas gift to me – a project which begins tomorrow! The room has no windows, so I plan to use color to make the room brighter. I’m buying the colorful canvas boxes to put in the cubbie spaces and I’m getting colorful binders for my single surname worksheets and files.

One of my Christmas gifts was a small, wireless speaker that has fantastic sound that I plan to use to listen to podcasts or music. I also got a nice flatscreen tv that won’t take up much space, but which will allow me to hook my computer into to watch web videos on various genealogy subjects. I’m even planning to have an area for “refreshments”. I have a small refrigerator that we got for college boys that will now be in my room and I’m planning space for making my favorite tea.

Shopping starts today! Any suggestions for my “genealogy heaven”?

Happy New Year to all my genealogy friends! Praying that you have many blessings in the coming year!


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